Full text of "Lincoln"
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Address delivered by Ex-Lieutenant Governor, W. A. Northcott, of
Springfield, Illinois, at Chicago, February 11th, 1909.
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There are two great epochs in the history of the American Republic.
One is the nation-building epoch and the other is the nation-preserving epoch.
The first had its scene of action in the midst of the thirteen Colonies on the
Atlantic sea-board and its central figure was George Washington. The
second epoch had its principal stage of conflict in the Mississippi Valley and
its hero was Abraham Lincoln.
We recall the history of the early settlements of Jamestown and Ply-
mouth Rock. We see the growth of thirteen colonies peopled by the liberty-
loving Anglo-Saxons. We stand with the throngs in the old town meetings
on the commons of Boston and hear the thunder-bolts hurled by Samuel
Adams at the tyranny of the British. We again hear the matchless eloquence
of Patrick Henry in the halls of the Virginia assembly, and the continental
congress. Like mountain peaks loom up the figures of Washington and
Franklin. We watch in the morning twilight for the coming of British
regulars along the streets in the quiet villages of Lexington and Concord.
We stand amid the glories of Bunker Hill and wait with Washington and
his barefooted soldiers in the snow at Valley Forge, and applaud his victory
at Trenton. We witness Burgoyne's surrender at Saratoga and Cornwallis'
at-Yorktown. We stand in the city of Philadelphia and hear the old liberty
bell peal out the birth of liberty upon a new continent; and hear the plaudits
of the world at the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence, as
penned by the liberty-loving Jefferson. We see a new nation born, dedi-
cated to freedom and constitutional government; created by a people whose
forefathers, upon the plains at Runnymede, had wrested from King John the
Magna Charta, the bulwark of Anglo-Saxon liberty; a nation that was to
exemplify to all history the truth, that all governments derive their just powers
from the consent of the governed.
Nations are not made, they grow. In the beginning of this republic
our forefathers left two great questions for future generations to solve. Ideas
are things, and it was a contest upon these two great ideas that moulded the
bullets that were fired in the civil war. As the teachings of Voltaire and
Rousseau culminated in the French Revolution, so the discussion of these
two great questions ended only at Appomattox.
The first found an early expression in the Kentucky and Virginia re-
solutions of 1798 and 1799, inspired by Jefferson. They formulated the
contention that the right of the State was above the right of the Federation.
Jeff^erson, the liberty-loving Jefferson, who had just come from under the
shadows of monarchy, knew no centralization except the centralization of
personal government. He did not fully understand that in a representative
government the greatest danger is not in centralization, but in disintegration.
He had not come to realize that the greatest tyranny is the tyranny of the
chief of a petty tribe, and that in empire there i§ liberty. That in a great
representative government where all power comes from the people, there is no
danger of centralization. Calhoun, as the disciple of Jefferson, carried this
idea to its logical conclusion and advocated the right of nullification and se-
cession, and closely connected this question with the other great question of
human slavery. This contest brought into action the transcendent eloquence
of Daniel Webster, whose defense of the supremacy of our federal govern-
ment will always be a part of our national history. It found its most dra-
matic incident when Andrew Jackson faced South Carolina in its nullification
and, with uplifted hand, swore by the Eternal that the right of the Federa-
tion was above the right of any state. And thus commenced the contest that
ended only in civil war.
Here upon the prairies of Illinois more than seventy years ago appeared
the first cloud of the impending storm. The death of Lovejoy at Alton
battling for the liberty of speech and for human freedom, inspired the oratory
of Wendell Phillips upon the commons of Boston, whose words rang out in
favor of liberty like the call to battle. His.death lent strength to the noble
Garrison in Massachusetts. It was with John Brown when he died at Har-
per's Ferry. It inspired the pen of Horace Greeley, whose words lighted
the fires that finally melted away forever the chains of slavery.
In the midst of this storm came the colossal figure of Abraham Lincoln,
the grandest man who has come to us on the tide of time." His origin was
as humble as that of the lowly Nazarene who bore his cross on the far-off
shores of Gallilee. As a solitary mountain peak towers above the plains,
so stood Lincoln above his environment. The cenruries will ask of him as
they have asked of Shakespeare, from whence came his greatness, and out
of the Eternal will come the answer that God gave it.
The first real Americans were those who crossed the Appalachian
mountains into the Mississippi Valley. Thus came Andrew Jackson and
Henry Clay and thus came the parents of Abraham Lincoln. This host of
pioneers from Virginia and the Carolinas into Kentucky and Tennessee and
thence into Illinois, made the back-ground for the figure of Lincoln and they
were the men in whose midst was fought out the second great American
The stars shine upon no greater people than those who live here in the
valley of the Mississippi river, greater than the Tigris or Euphrates; greater
than the Nile, that flowed by the homes of the Ptolemies and Pharoahs, and
upon whose banks sit grand, gloomy and peculiar, the everlasting pyramids;
greater than the Tiber of ancient Rome, from whose banks the imperial
Caesars ruled the world; greater than the Rhine, in whose valley contended
the Teuton and the Gaul for the supremacy of Europe and the world; greater
than all these because it flows by the home of freemen. And Illinois stretch-
ing from the Great Lakes on the north, to the very heart of the Southland, be-
came the keystone of this great valley and here lived and wrought Abraham
"Not without thy wondrous story,
Can be writ the nations glory,
On the record of thy years
Abraham Lincoln's name appears,
(rrant and Logan and our tears,
Lincoln was just entering public life as a member of the Illinois Legis-
lature at the formative period of this government. Chief Justice Marshall
was yet breathing into our Constitution, the breath of a broader National life.
Those giants, Webster and Calhoun, were battling over the relation of the
states to the Federal Government. Webster's great reply to Hayne was
ringing throughout the country like a call to battle. This great speech
built the breast-works behind which the Union soldiers fought from 1861 to
'65. Lincoln caught the inspiration of the times and he believed with
Washington and Hamilton that the right of the Federation was above the
right of any state. These great statesmen were aristocrats but Lincoln was
one of the people and put into practice what Jefferson taught in theory —
equality of all men before the law. Without being an aristocrat, Lin-
coln believed in the supremacy of the national government. Believing
in the equality of men, he denied Jefferson's doctrine of state sovereignty.
Lincoln became the champion and embodiment of two great American Ideas
— liberty and national supremacy. He was a great admirer and follower of
Henry Clay and believed in the doctrine of a protective tariff and other great
Whig principles which were inherited by the Republican party and which
have finally come to be the belief of a Nation.
Lincoln was a politician in the truest and best sense of the term. A
statesman understands the theory of government and a politician the practice
of government. Lincoln was both a statesman and a politician. There
can be no successful government without party, and no successful party
without organization and no organization without politicians. When Lin-
coln was a member of the Illinois Legislature he joined in a combination
with eight others which became knowji as the ' Long Nine." These mem-
bers were from Sangamon County and became the early disciples of that
principle of "log-rolling" by which they voted for every measure by which
they could trade for votes for the removal of the State Capital from Vandalia
to Springfield. Lincoln thus became the head and front of one of the most
marked log-rolling schemes known to Illinois history and he was successful.
As a politician he was always fair and honorable and never struck below
Lincoln's great power with the people lay in the strength of his expres-
sion. His words were as easily understood by the people amongst whom
he lived as the call of the bird to its mate. As true to nature as the roar of
the wild beast or the gentle murmur of falling waters. His thought and
speech was as direct as the lightning and his humor as gentle and wholesome
as the laughter of a little child. His Gettysburg speech and his inaugural
addresses are unexcelled classics.
The hour having struck, the great stage ready, and the man come, the
curtain rises upon the debates between the "Little Giant" Stephen A. Doug-
las and the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln. Here in Illinois with
her prairies so open that truth could find no hiding place, the people listened
to the immortal words of Lincoln in that great debate and they caught the
inspiration of liberty. The torch was lighted and the fire of freedom spread
throughout the length and breadth of the land.
When Lincoln appeared at the great meeting at Cooper Institute, New
York, he was practically unknown in the East. He arrived hurriedly from
a late train and appeared dusty and ill-attired. His gaunt body was cov-
ered with ill-fitting clothes; the sleeves of his coat were short and his
trousers came nearly to his knees. The Chairman, ashamed of his appear-
ance, threw him at the meeting like you would throw a boot-jack at a cat.
He said: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Abraham Lincoln of Illinois." Then Lin-
coln spake as never man spoke before, on this great question of human slavery.
^With a logic as incisive as steel, he analyzed this great question from the
making of the Constitution up to that time. His words were as mellow as
the cadences of the Kalavalla. Here his great power of direct speech illumm-
ated the question as it had never been illumed before. When he had con-
cluded his masterly effort the cultured East had bowed down in homage to
the simple pioneer that the West had already lifted upon its shoulders.
Years afterwards, Mr Lincoln told a friend that at this meeting for the first
time he thought that one day he might become President of the United
Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Yorktown made us free from the tyranny of
kmgs but it was not until the boys in blue marched with Grant to Appo-
mattox and the Emancipation Proclamation came from the hand of Lincoln
like the voice of God into the grave of Lazarus, were all of our people abso-
lutely free. Then for the first time were the theories of the Declaration of
Independence made absolute facts.
Then the storm which had been gathering for more than half a century
broke with all its fury and violence. The first gun fired on Fort Sumpter
was the voice of destiny calling on the young republic to do battle for its life.
No great army was in the field to answer to the challenge. It was not to
be a mortal combat between the equipped and mobilized armies of two great
foreign powers; but under the dark cloud of impending war, loyal citizens
asked themselves.? "Would the nation die," or "would the nation live.''" By
their firesides, with prattling children upon their knees, with the tearful eyes
of wives upon them, men sought to resolve their duty. The call was
answered from the plow, the workshop, the hill and dale, from country and
city the people flocked to arms.
"They came as the waves come when armies are landed.
They came as the winds come when navies are stranded."
And above the thunder of the muttering storm was heard the voice of a
lion-hearted people, cry to their leader:
"We are coming, Father Abraham, one hundred thousand strong."
You have read of those days how the firing on Fort Sumpter aroused
the patriotism of the people. You have read of the news of the defeats at
Bull Run and Chancellorsville; how the splendid army of the Potomac wasted
with disease and inaction. Then it belonged to the soldiers from the corn-
fields of the west to look, with Grant, into the fiery mouths of the cannon
at Fort Donnelson, and give to a faltering cause the courage of a great victory
gained. It was their stubborn courage that changed defeat into victory at
Shiloh. They waited with Grant in front of Vicksburg until that place gave
way before their grim determination. And then came the glorious news of
Gettysburg; how Meade threw shrapnel into the ranks of Lee's defeated le-
gions. You have read of Logan at Atlanta; how after McPherson had fal-
len he road to the front with his long, black hair streaming in the breeze,
his eyes flashing, his sword drawn, that caught its brightness from the princely
gleaming of his soul, "a mailed warrior, a plumed knight," who plucked
victory from defeat, even at the cannon's mouth, and with the ferocity of a
tiger, compelled submission from bended knees. There may have been
better trained generals, but there never was a braver soldier than John A.
Logan. He was the hero volunteer soldier of that war.
Then Grant, who never lost a battle, joined in the last death struggle
with Lee in the Wilderness; and then was heard the glad acclaim of the
people, when the bottom dropped out of the armed rebellion upon the field
The soldiers from the cornfields of the west joined in the grand review
at Washington, marching down the streets of the National Capital, cheered
by all Christendom. And no braver, better soldiers ever formed the phalanx
of Caesar or followed the eagles of Napoleon.
Then was lifted into the forum of the constitution to shine forever and
ever like a star, the great principle of equality of all men before the law.
Then the shackles fell from four million slaves and they were lifted from
chattels to the rights of American citizenship. Then the Mississippi in its
joyous march to the gulf, and from the gulf to the sea, told no story of Mis-
souri, sang no song of Illinois. In it was not heard the name of any state,
but in that ceaseless murmur between two great oceans was heard a grand
anthem to the American Republic; in it was heard the voice of a nation pro-
claiming the will of the people. It now flows by the home of no slave and
Through the blood and tears and suff^ering of that great war, there was
breathed into this nation the breath of a broader national life. Human slav-
ery was abolished, state sovereignty was dead, and the liberty of thought, of
speech, and of publication was established.
Standing with a new generation today, looking back, we see the clouds
of war lifting. We see our republic entering upon a career of progress un-
equalled in the history of nations, and yet in the forenoon of its greatness.
Seeing all these things, remembering the precious price that has been paid
for this heritage, let us not forget the words of the immortal Lincoln as he
stood upon the famous field of Gettysburg: "Here let us highly resolve that
the dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation shall, under God, have
a new birth of freedom and that the government of the people, for the peo-
ple and by the people shall not perish from the earth."
The time honored saying that a prophet is not without honor save in
his own country was not true of Mr. Lincoln. ' The people amongst whom
he lived all loved, revered and honored him. What he said and did and
was when in their midst they have cherished as the Hebrew tribes the tra-
dition of Abraham, and dying, have bequeathed them as a rich legacy to
There is no more pathetic scene in all history than when upon his de-
parture to assume the duties of Chief Magistrate of the great nation on the
eve of impending war his home people gathered to bid him a last farewell,
and to offer their prayers to God for his safety. In that dark hour he reached
out to touch the hand of his people hlce a Httle child in the darkness reaches
out to touch the hand of its mother. He sprang from the common people
and in all his sorrows and battles their touch gave him strength and courage,
as the touch of Mother Earth gave strength and victory to Antaeos of old.
On this Centennial Anniversary the people of Springfield and of Illinois
with one mind and one heart join with all the people of this Republic in
paying a loving tribute to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and America —
names as inseparable and as immortal in history as the names of Alexander
and Greece, of Caesar and Rome, of Napoleon and France.
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